Sir Salman Rushdie is in the news again for making controversial comments.

Luckily for him, these comments are unlikely to land him in the uncomfortable position of a fatwa on his head, as was the case when he angered the Muslim community with his Satanic Verses novel. However, these comments may be a bit unpopular with those in the education system.

Rushdie’s comment? Schools should use – *gasp* – rote memorization as a learning technique. The Telegraph records Rushdie’s statements:

“Sir Salman said that memorising works of literature had become a ‘lost’ art. He added: ‘It does seem as if it was something that we all had and we all felt gave us something and now people don’t do it.

‘It is a lost thing but it is a real loss in education. There are some people I know who are just able to carry around absurd amounts of poetry in their head, [Christopher] Hitchens, [Martin] Amis, you can point out at them and say ‘Byron’ and they would give you twenty minutes. I envy that, being able to walk around with that in your head.’

Sir Salman said that his two sons, Zafar and Milan, who both went to north London private schools, had gone ‘through the English education system and neither of them was asked to memorise anything’.

He added: ‘So that suggests to me that it doesn’t happen.’”

Rushdie goes on to explain why he thinks rote memorization should see resurgence in schools:

“It is a simple exercise that enriches the way you enjoy poems and enriches your relationship with language and once you have done it at that age it stays with you forever.”

But memorization has benefits beyond the pleasurable ones Rushdie mentions. As Neuroscience professor Dr. William Klemm notes, practicing memorization exercises and strengthens the mind. Furthermore, rote memorization also fosters the critical thinking which today’s education system is always seeking to cultivate, for it provides students with the basic facts and mental building blocks upon which they can expand their thinking and reasoning skills.

With these facts in mind, is it possible that the mass discouragement of rote memorization in today’s schools has actually harmed students more than it has helped?

Image Credit: Ken Conley (cropped)